Marcella’s Kicks Off Sunday Brunch Italian Style in LoHi

My favorite Italian place in town is now doing Sunday brunch 10am to 3pm! Marcella’s (right on Central Street in LoHi) has always had fantastic Italian food, a fun atmosphere, and one of the best happy hours I’ve ever seen (50% off almost everything but the entrees, and that includes pizza). Well, they’ve finally launched a brunch menu! I had a chance to try it at a tasting event the other week — and I’ve got to tell you — it’s a must-try.

In Italy, eggs and waffles and all that are less of a thing for breakfast. Instead, you’ve got melon, prosciutto (and other meats), and cheeses. I absolutely did not complain about that when I was in Italy. Or the enormous pitchers of Sangria. (The red and white Sangria are both really good at Marcella’s, by the way. And they go fantastically with meat and cheese.)

Meats, meats, and more meats. Yes, yes, and yes. This also exists on the regular menu (and the 50% off happy hour).

You may be amazed to hear that I loved a vegan dish, but I did. The “Sicilian Caponata” with roasted eggplant and other veggies. This is an app that also exists on the regular menu (and the 50% off happy hour).

Truffle Eggs: poached eggs, toasted ciabatta, taleggio cheese. A fantastic, creamy, flavorful vegetarian breakfast dish.

As the main photo on the post might suggest, this was actually my favorite dish. Ricotta crepes with macerated strawberries and almonds. It’s all just so perfectly paired and fluffy and delicate and just sweet enough. And it reminds me of childhood breakfasts at home in Ukraine where my grandpa would make huge piles of perfectly-thin, perfectly-round crepes with a side of blended fresh strawberries (just picked from our farm) and fresh cottage cheese from the neighbor’s cow.

No brunch is complete without a Nutella option. I don’t know what it is about Nutella. Our neighbors pointed out that apparently my face looks like I’m experiencing some sort of nirvana-like moment when I eat Nutella. I am. Can you blame me?

Yes, it’s an omelette. It not may be particularly unique, other than the caprese salad on the side, but it’s delicious. And I’ve had a lot of mediocre omelettes that weren’t delicious.

Apparently, breakfast pizza is a thing. (I guess I’ve simply never discovered breakfast pizza before.) That’s burrata on there by the way — which goes so well with sunny eggs. And before you dismiss it because you don’t see meat: just know it has N’duja (a slightly spicy spreadable pork). You’re welcome.

More meat! This time, it’s the Short Rib Hash. I’ve yet to be disappointed by any slow-cooked meat at Marcella’s, and this was no exception.

I have no idea how it was possible to fit anything else into our stomachs, but we managed. Because these:

And once we walked out of this brunch, we decided to buy one of the condos in the new condo building going up a block away — so you know it was good 😉

Marcella’s Adds Fantastic New Dishes to the Menu, Including a Pork Osso Buco

Marcella’s in LoHi has quickly become my favorite Italian place in Denver since it opened last fall. It’s just the best mix of being hip, bright, friendly, delicious, well-located, and affordable. If nothing else, you have to come for the 4-6:30 M-F happy hour where almost the entire menu is 50% off. That includes the cocktails, beer, most wines, appetizers, meats/cheeses,  soups/salads, pizzas, and more. Basically everything but the entrees and super expensive wines! (But if you’re interested in the super expensive Italian wines, this is a great place to try them by the glass, when most places only let you do it by the bottle.)

I recently got the chance to try the new additions to their menu, and I highly recommend you try them, too! Without further ado… the new stuff:

If you’ve lived in Colorado for any amount of time, you’ve probably tried 1,000 renditions of a brussel sprout dish. In my opinion, Panzano and Marcella’s have the best ones. These come with apples, almonds, ricotta, and grainy mustard. The mustard is a new addition to the dish I haven’t had anywhere else — and I’m a sucker for spice and vinegar. The only thing that could make these better would be bacon.

Another new antipasti (appetizer) is the Spicy N’Duja — which is a paté sausage mixed with orzo, corn, and broccolini. And no, if you haven’t heard of this before, you’re not weird. I haven’t either. Honestly, I wished this was meatier and spicier. Apparently one person complained about the spiciness level and ruined it for the rest of us 😉

Sorry to interrupt the scheduled programming of “new dishes” here — but this oldie, but goodie, deserves a special mention. Don’t ever leave Marcella’s without getting the Melted Pecorino Cheese with crostini, apple, and truffle honey. (It’s also on happy hour for 50% off.)

So full disclosure: I don’t usually eat a lot of cooked fish. I’m more of a sushi fan — or a crab/crawfish fan. But this new fish entree is pretty fantastic. It’s the Barramundi with farro, broccolini, fennel, and lemon caper vinigrette. As far as Italian fish dishes go, this is definitely at the top of my list.

This is the new Chianti Braised Short Rib with radiatore pasta, capers, and horseradish. If you’re a short rib fan, you won’t be disappointed by these. They’re juicy and just-fatty-enough and tender and flavorful and all those other amazing adjectives.

Now for my favorite item of the night: the Pork Osso Buco with brussels, carrots, polenta, and sweet garlic. If you don’t know what Osso Buco is,  you need to go eat as much of it as possible — immediately. Traditionally, it’s a Milanese speciality of cross-cut veal shanks slow-braised until they’re so tender they just fall apart, and paired with some sort of vegetables. It’s an awesome meal to make at home if you have the time. There’s also a pretty fantastic pre-made boxed version of these at Costco. But nothing beats an expert restaurant preparation. I’ve never had a pork rendition before — but holy crap, was this amazing. Honestly, if nothing else on the entree menu — try this. And I am also willing to throw all the money at Marcella’s in the future if they will do the traditional veal version of these, because now I’m convinced they know what they’re doing. (The reason they’re not doing veal is because they’re trying to lower the consumer price point.) Also on the seasonal menu, the ricotta cheesecake with an almond crust, strawberry sauce, and real strawberries. If you’ve never had it, ricotta cheesecake is an amazing cheesecake.

This is on the regular menu, but the Profiteroles dessert just needs a mention. Pistachio, chocolate, and vanilla gelato — with warm chocolate ganache. Like sex on a plate. I’ll leave you with that.


The New Marcella’s Restaurant in LoHi May Just Be Your New Favorite Italian Restaurant

The other day, I got a chance to check out Marcella’s Ristorante, Pizzeria and Wine Bar that just opened on Central Street in LoHi (right down the road from Prost Brewery, with a beautiful patio facing downtown). And I have to say, this just might be my new go-to for Italian food — so if you’re a fan of Italian, you’ve got to check it out. It’s the perfect balance between some of the fancier, dimly-lit Italian restaurants around town — and the slightly-kitchy family style Italian chains. Marcella’s has a fun, lively, vibrant atmosphere that’s the perfect mix of traditional Italian with modern, trendy Colorado — making it ideal for a happy hour with coworkers, a casual date, or dinner with the family. And the food is just soooooo good!

Some timing details: The restaurant is open Monday-Thursday 4-10pm; Friday from 4pm to midnight; Saturday and Sunday for brunch 10am-3pm; Saturday for dinner from 4pm to midnight; and Sunday for dinner 4-10pm. Happy hour is Monday-Friday 4-6pm and includes 50% off many of the drink and food options from the regular menu! That’s an amazing deal if you’re a happy hour fiend like me!

I decided to try one of the specialty cocktails, the Grapefruit Basil Fizz (Finlandia Grapefruit Vodka, Italian basil, hand squeezed lemon)  — and was very impressed. I’m looking forward to trying some of the other cocktail options and seeing how they evolve their cocktail menu.

Now for the aforementioned delicious food! The #1 must-try is the Braised Veal Meatball with a simple tomato sauce. It’s bigger than the size of my fist — and it’s so incredibly flavorful that I’m salivating just thinking about it again. It’s not like any other meatball I’ve ever had: it’s not densely packed together like most meatballs I’ve tried, but literally falls apart as you touch it and melts in your mouth. I know I’m getting this again during happy hour when I come back! (The 1st photo below is mine, but the 2nd was borrowed from Marcella’s, since I think the day lighting does it much more justice.)

Next on my list of favorites are the parmesan crusted onions from Marcella’s brick oven. It’s not something I would have thought to order if they hadn’t suggested it — but I’m so glad I did. I loved this with the meatball, but they’d make a great sharing plate on their own, or a side for something else. That sharp parmesan flavor is just perfect with the slightly sweet caramelized onions.

Another highly-recommended appetizer is the melted Pecorino cheese imported from a Tuscan farm in Italy — with crostini, apple, and truffle honey. I mean, how can you go wrong with melted cheese?!

Alright, now for some main dishes. We decided to go with the chef/house recommendations for the table, and we weren’t disappointed. They were all traditional Italian dishes that were just perfectly executed and full of flavor — and exactly what you’d want from an Italian restaurant. This is the Chicken Parmesan, a classic:

My personal favorite was probably the Spaghetti Alla Carbonara with crispy pancetta and a whole egg yolk (I took the photo after I broke the yolk and swirled it around — woops). It’s just so creamy, and the salty pancetta is the perfect addition, especially for a carnivore like me!

My husband would probably say his favorite was the Gnocchi con Bolognese. It’s not what you typically imagine “bolognese” to be — since it’s made with big chunks of braised lamb. So if you’re a lamb fan like my husband, this dish is perfect for you!

You’d think we’d be way too full to eat anything by now — but thankfully we didn’t finish our entrees and took them to go, so we could leave room for dessert. And the desserts here are awesome. This is the chocolate almond cake, and I’d eat it again anytime. It’s not overpoweringly almond-flavored, but just enough to give it that unique flavor.

And we all agreed the Cannolis here were the best we’ve had outside of Italy. You may think you’ve tried a cannoli elsewhere in Denver, but these will redefine what you think of as cannolis.


One of the Best Happy Hours in Downtown Denver: Panzano

If any of you know me, you know that I absolutely LOVE a good happy hour. And I’ve been to a lot of them. There’s probably not a place downtown I haven’t tried for happy hour. And one of my favorites has always been Panzano. It’s somewhat of a downtown institution — having been around for years.

I just love the variety of always-changing cocktails they have, as well as the extensive happy hour food options. You can easily have an entire dinner here during happy hour — and I often do. Plus, happy hour is 7 days a week (which is awesome if you’re looking for a weekend option) — and it starts at 2:30pm (sometimes you just need to get away a little early).

Happy Hour: 2:30pm-6pm, 7 days a week
  • $4 draft beers
  • $5 glasses of wine, or $12 carafes
  • $6 cocktails (these are absolutely fantastic and a must-try)
  • $9 barrel-aged cocktails (if you’re looking for something fancy)
  • $4-$8 eats (I love the extensive selection of Italian small plates)
  • See the menus

Make sure you get here by 5pm though, because the entire HH lounge is usually packed by then.

The Cocktails

There are tons of fantastic cocktails you can get for happy hour — and they’re just $6 (all the options in the left and right columns). I also highly recommend trying one of the barrel-aged bourbons if that’s something you’re into, since Panzano has a whole back room where they age liquors in mini barrels.

panzano happy hour drinks

One of my personal favorites on the cocktail list is the “R and R” (Grey Goose vodka, raspberry liqueur, muddled raspberries, rosemary, splash of soda). It’s not always available, but there’s always something similarly refreshing.

Panzano R and R

Another really great option that’s perfect for summer is the “Cucumber Mint Mule” (Bombay Sapphire gin, lime juice, ginger beer, muddled mint and cucumber).

Panzano cucumber mule

The Food

Holy crap, look at all those food options! I mean really, this looks more like a full menu than a happy hour menu. This is what I mean about easily being able to have dinner here — all for happy hour prices.

panzano happy hour food menu

These Cavolini di Bruxelles (brussel sprouts) come with an apple cider reduction, pistachios, rosemary salt, and sliced green apple. And despite the lack of bacon, they taste fantastic.

Panzano brussel sprouts

The plates below were 2 of favorites here (sorry for the smartphone photo — I’ve been here multiple times, and not always with my SLR). It’s the lamb ragu and veal scallopini, but I think they’ve been switched out on the latest version of the menu. Not to worry though, there’s now a tortellini bolognese with ground veal short rib — as well as a braised lamb and polenta ravioli. So decadent, meaty dishes will always be a staple here.

Panzano veal and ragu

What I do wish they’d bring back though, is the Capesante (pan-seared scallop, spinach, ricotta gnudi, spring vegetables, basil leek nage, saffron pecorino, fried shallots, and mint).

Panzano scallop

The Best Dinner You’ll Have in Denver: The Cicchetti Bar at Sarto’s

[gdlr_notification icon=”icon-exclamation-sign” type=”color-border” border=”#2bdda9″ color=”#000000″]UPDATE: Chef Brian Laird is no longer at Sarto’s, and I’m not sure about the fate of the cicchetti bar without him. So unfortunately, the following dinner experience may no longer be an option.[/gdlr_notification]

Some dining experiences just stand out. They make you want to come back again and again, even having tried hundreds of other great restaurants. Eating at the cicchetti bar at Sarto’s is one of those experiences.

Sarto’s is a modern Italian restaurant that opened this last fall in the Jefferson Park neighborhood, and if you go there, make sure you make a reservation at the cichetti bar, which is essentialy like a chef’s table. Award-winning Executive Chef Brian Laird prepares a multi-course meal of Italian small plates right in front of you, tailored to your tastes and mood. It’s an off-menu experience that I would say is unrivaled in Denver (and yes, I know that’s a bold statement).

Sarto's chef's cicchetti bar

The word “cicchetti” is obviously Italian (Venetian to be specific), and it refers to the small appetizer-size dishes typically served in traditional cicchetti bars in Venice, Italy. It’s kind of like Spanish tapas, except in Italy, people usually socialize and hang around the bar, eating cicchetti standing up — like passed hors d’oeuvres. Anyway, let’s get to the photos of food!

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Our Amazing 11-Course Dinner

These photos are really just for you to get an idea of how amazing this meal can be. Depending on the night and your personal preferences, you’ll probably get something entirely different.

Course 1: Sweet peppers stuffed with a tonnato sauce (mayo-based sauce flavored with tuna)

Sarto's chef's cicchetti bar course 1

Course 2: Oysters with amazing things on top, including rosemary caviar

Sarto's chef's cicchetti bar course 2

Course 3: Crostini with cheeses

Sarto's chef's cicchetti bar course 3

Course 4 (my personal favorite): Mushroom tart wrapped in speck (a type of prosciutto) with salsify (a root vegetable) and a creamy parmesan sauce

Sarto's chef's cicchetti bar course 4

Course 5: Gnudi ravioli (the insides of the rav without the pasta covering) with a mini salad, sage, and butter

Sarto's chef's cicchetti bar course 5

Course 6: Pasta in a slightly spicy puttanesca sauce with juicy yellow peppers

Sarto's chef's cicchetti bar course 6

Course 7: Acquerello risotto with asparagus, tomatoes, and peas

Sarto's chef's cicchetti bar course 7

Course 8: Pork medallion with a curry potato puree and fava beans

Sarto's chef's cicchetti bar course 8

So technically this wasn’t the 9th course. This was something we noticed on the appetizer menu: “chicken and waffles” made with sweetbreads. And it was the last day the sweetbreads were going to be on the menu, so naturally I had to order some. Now these are my kind of chicken and waffles.

Sarto's chef's chicken and waffles with sweetbreads

The Real Course 9 / Phase 1 of Dessert: Ice cream with pistachio dust and some sides

Sarto's chef's cicchetti bar course 9

Course 10 / Phase 2 of Dessert: Bread pudding

Sarto's chef's cicchetti bar course 10

Course 11 / Phase 3 of Dessert: So at this point I’d put my camera away thinking we were done. Except I’d mentioned that I’m not too big on sweets and tend to eat cheese for dessert at home, so we all got little platters of cheeses. Which I promptly ate before taking a photo. Sorry I’m not sorry.

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I’ll leave you with this photo of the awesome salami contraption (because I can). Somehow I convinced the chef to cut me an extra slice of salami here and there. Because look at it.

Sarto's salami

Oh, and there are tons of amazing Italian wine options. Duh.

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Sarto's on Urbanspoon

North Italia: Great Modern Italian and an Upbeat Vibe in Cherry Creek

I have to be honest: I don’t often think of Cherry Creek when I’m looking for a fun place to go for dinner. Very often, Cherry Creek lives up to its stereotype of being an expensive, pretentious neighborhood. However, I’ve recently discovered that there’s also a lot of great food to be had in Cherry Creek — and great in a foodie way, not in a “I just paid $50 for this steak, so it must be good” kind of way. One of the places I definitely recommend visiting is North Italia (190 Clayton Lane), which is a more modern, upbeat version of your traditional Italian restaurant (but still with delicious, made-from-scratch Italian food). And it’s surprisingly affordable!

The Atmosphere & People

Maybe I’ve judged Cherry Creek too much, but I was pleasantly surprised by how “cool” it was in here. Apparently, North gets pretty packed on a daily basis. It has a fun, upbeat buzz that makes it a really great place to come with friends or on a date. And the staff is young and friendly and great to chat with (if you’re sitting at the bar). I really couldn’t find anything to even complain about (which is pretty rare for me).

North Italia inside

The Drinks & Food

There’s some great Italian wines here (duh), but I would also highly recommend trying the Julietta cocktail (even though it’s $10). I’m a sucker for cocktails with herb- or spice-infused liquor. And this is a vanilla- and ginger-infused Smirnoff with St. Germain, lime, and prosecco. It may look a little girly, but guy or girl, you should give it a try.

North Italia cocktail

The menu pretty much had me at “Heirloom Beet Salad” (I’m a sucker for beets). It’s a mix of roasted golden beets, apples, arugula, hazelnut, ricotta, and lemon crème fraiche. Now, I’m not usually one to rave about a “salad,” but this salad is pretty damn amazing. It’s not one of those “here’s a bunch of arugula and 3 pieces of beets” kinds of salads. The hazelnuts were a pretty genius addition, too. I’d eat it every day.

North Italia beet salad

If you knew me, you’d know how hard it was for me not to get the beef short ribs ($25) or the prosciutto-wrapped pork tenderloin ($22). But the “Bolognese” is the house specialty, so I felt like on my first visit here, I had to give it a try. And oh man am I glad I did. For just $16, you get a bowl of made-from-scratch pasta smothered in an amazing meat sauce, and topped with grana padano cheese. It definitely tastes like it’s made-from-scratch and is bursting with great Italian flavors, and even though it’s not your traditional Spaghetti Bolognese (as you can tell from the photo), I actually like this better. A flat pasta just holds meat much better than a slippery round noodle (and it’s important to get all that meat!).

North Italia bolognese

The Happy Hour

If your concern is more about the price, North also has a great Happy Hour (3-6pm Mon-Fri and all day Sunday). You can get $4 glasses of wine or sangria, $16 bottles/pitchers, $3-$4 snacks, $8 pizzas, a $10 board of meat/cheese, or a $20 bottle+pizza or bottle+board. I did that last one the last time I was here — and man what a deal that was! Pretty hard to beat as far as happy hours in Cherry Creek go!